Health and Wellbeing

I’ve been told I have flat feet – what does that mean?

May 6 2019

How much thought do you give to your feet? We’re here to demystify foot structure. We discuss the term ‘flat feet’, what causes them, and what impact can they have on your life.

What are ‘Flat Feet’?

On a visit to the doctors or out and about shoe-shopping you may have been told that you have flat feet. But what exactly does this term mean? And if your feet aren’t flat, what other types are there?

There are three main types of feet:

  • Flat feet: Very flexible feet with low arches. People with flat feet tend to roll over or over-pronate (where the ankle rolls too far downward and inward with each step).
  • Medium arch (neutral feet): Moderately flexible feet with obvious arch definition.
  • High arch (a more rigid foot type): The foot arch sits a lot higher from the ground.

What causes them to be ‘flat’?

Did you know that around 20% of the population has low arches?

Flat feet develop due to the relationship and interaction of the foot structures throughout your life. A person’s race, geographic location and lifestyle choices can all affect the development of the foot. Another factor includes physical conditions which affect the muscles, nerves or joints in the whole body. Injury, age or being overweight can also cause the feet tissues to stretch, again resulting in flat feet.

Characteristics of flat feet

To check if you have flat feet have a look to see if the foot’s inner portion is flat when you are standing. If you check the inner sides of shoes as well, they may appear to be worn-out.

Usually, having flat feet is unproblematic. They don’t normally cause any issues and shouldn’t prevent you from doing any of your daily activities or sports.

Possible pain

Due to their shape, people may experience pain on the inside of their ankle. This is known as posterior tibial tendonitis. It arises due to the forces that are transmitted through their foot when they step on the ground.

Other issues which can arise due to flat feet are hip pain, medial knee pain and heel pain (plantar-fasciitis).

I get pain, can a physio help?

Most foot conditions are related to how a person’s foot absorbs shock from the ground. If your feet get painful or stiff or if they feel weak, then seeking help from your local physiotherapist is advised. Your physiotherapist will be able to advise you about the cause of pain and offer treatment for its relief. Treatment may be education about your foot type and its implications and the prescription of exercises. These will help strengthen your arches and improve the overall efficiency and biomechanics of your feet.

A foot specialist can also offer advice on insoles and specialist foot support if required.

Extreme pain

Although you will never be able to change the shape of your feet, treatment from a physio will help with symptoms like pain or stiffness.  In rare cases, your GP may refer you for surgery if they think it can help.

If the pain or discomfort continues, becomes worse or you happen to reinjure yourself it is important to seek further guidance. You can get this help from a Chartered Physiotherapist, who will also be happy to answer any questions you may have.